Meet #WonderWoman Margaret Spence

In a Twitter conversation not too long ago, Sarah Morgan reminded us that HR is full of women and people of color, and that patriarchy and white supremacy impact how we are viewed and promoted. Thinking about HR’s perpetual quest for ‘a seat at the table’, I was reminded of what Tarana Burke said at WorkHuman last year: hiring and promoting women isn’t enough. We have to untrain the effects of being steeped in the patriarchy. This brought me back to Margaret Spence’s SHRM18 session on ‘Radically Rethinking Empowerment and Engagement: Transform Your Approach to Developing Women Leaders.’ Margaret believes that one of the fundamental hindrances in seeing women rise in leadership is that traditional leadership development has been designed by men, for men. Trying to fit women into that design, rather than addressing their specific needs, holds women back.

There are two ways to apply this lesson. The first is for female professionals in HR to think about ourselves. Margaret challenges us to think first: who am I as a leader? Women, she says, often need to be told they can lead in order to see themselves in that role. Isn’t that true for many of us in HR? How have we been negatively influenced by a cultural narrative that requires us to change who we are in order to succeed? Or creates a definition of success that doesn’t resonate with who we are at heart?

The second way we in HR need to apply this is in how we function within our HR role. We are the gatekeepers of training, development and promotion. There is a serious problem in our businesses: women are 46.8% of the workforce, and only 6.4% of Fortune 500 companies have women CEO’s. Let’s drive that home: in 2018, there are only 24 women CEO’s leading Fortune 500 companies. And only 2 are women of color. None are African-American. None. There are no African-American women leading a Fortune 500 today, even though African-American women earn more MBA’s/PhD’s than any other subgroup.

Margaret Spence is on a mission to change the way women, especially women of color, experience leadership development. She wants to break down barriers to the C-Suite and change the dismal status quo. Margaret, a successful CEO in her own right, is moving away from her traditional consulting company to focus her energies on the Employee to CEO Project, which, as Margaret puts it, is “closing the diversity gap between the Executive Suite and the C-Suite by ending career plateaus and off ramps that derail the careers of minority women and men. There’s a tiny space between making a difference and accepting the status quo – we work within that gap.” Part of the Employee to CEO Project includes the new 10-X Leadership Academy, workshops developed by women for women to help leaders grow their careers.

Wendy Dailey and I had a chance to talk with Margaret recently for an upcoming special episode of the #HRSocialHourHalfHour podcast as part of a new series, #WonderWomen, where we focus on amplifying the voices of women of color who are making a difference in HR. According to Margaret, women need coaching and training specifically designed for women. We need to ask what they want and listen to their responses. And if you are an HR professional and a woman, ask yourself the same questions:

What is the message that you’re telling yourself about your career?

What can you learn about yourself today?

What is absolutely essential to your career development?

Where are your opportunities? What are your biggest barriers to success?

What goal do you have that takes your breath away every time you think about it?

What do you want to achieve? Why do you want it? Why don’t you have it now?

How committed are you to seeing it through?

When we ask these questions of the women in our organizations and listen to their answers, and when we answer these questions for ourselves, we’ll experience the transformation that Margaret envisions. Check out the #WonderWomen podcast to hear more as Wendy and I talk to Margaret Spence.

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Building inclusive spaces by reaching outside our walls

There are some common buzzwords we use in HR when we talk about diversity. To start with, there’s that word diversity, as well as inclusion, and equity. We talk about people bringing their ‘full authentic selves’ to work. I do believe that many of us are quite sincere in wanting to create spaces where people can be their full authentic selves, whatever that means or whatever that looks like. We want our companies to be diverse in every kind of way, whether racially and ethnically, generationally, or any other -ally. We want to be inclusive and make room for everyone whether disabled or non-disabled, LGBTQ or straight. We know that our organizations will thrive when we welcome and include everyone. We know that innovation happens in diversity and not homogeneity.

But when these concepts get reduced to buzzwords, we end up with diversity programs without real inclusion. We end up with people who may look or sound different, but underneath function the same, whether they are all authentically the same or they just learn to fit in to get ahead.

Regardless of our level of sincerity and commitment, I have come to realize that it is almost impossible to create truly diverse and inclusive spaces. Because no matter what we do, no matter how welcoming we are, no matter how much of the heavy work of self-assessment, and confronting bias, and tearing down walls and building inclusivity into our organizations we do, we only influence a small part of the world our employees live in. At the end of the workday, everyone leaves your building, or signs off from your company server, or clocks out, and goes back out to the world.

We live in a world where US citizens with US passports can live in fear of deportation (is it even deportation if you were born in the US? Isn’t it exile?) because their skin is brown and they were born in a border state. We live in a world where black parents have to teach their children how to act when pulled over by the police, and yet those same parents fear that no matter how well their child behaves, he might still not make it home. Where white supremacists march openly, and the rights of those who are LGBTQ are constantly at risk of being stripped, where the simple human dignity of walking into a public bathroom is something that must be fought for, and often not won.

If you want to measure how inclusive you are, start listening to the conversations your employees are having. Can they talk openly about their fears and frustrations? Is everyone able to talk about their experiences outside your office? Do people speak about the systems and institutions that perpetuate oppression? When was the last time your employees had a candid conversation about redlining and how it affected their families? Patriarchy, white supremacy, these are hard words that we tend to want to shy away from, but they are words that impact our employees in every aspect of their lives. If folks can’t talk about these things, your organization isn’t really inclusive.

How do we build inclusive spaces? Safe spaces? We start by building honest spaces, where being your full authentic self means sharing your full authentic story. Where people grapple with the very real results of the systems that got us all here. Where those who benefit from those systems own that knowledge, and work to effect change, not only in the office but in the world. Because until we reach outside of our company walls and into the world, our best and most sincere efforts towards diversity, inclusion and equity are doomed to fail.